Expecting Better Defense, Special Teams, and Health
As they entered their Week 14 matchup with the Buccaneers, the Vikings had hopes for down-the-stretch surge and postseason run. They didn't match the eventual Super Bowl champions in either playoff odds (27.3% versus 92.0%) or DVOA (-1.3%, 15th, versus 26.0%, third). But on a streak of five wins in six games, the Vikings were just one game behind in the standings. They were different enough from the usual fare of contenders—in their avoidance of 11 personnel and reliance on a running game—to give even their best opponents fits, like they did to the Packers in a Week 8 road upset. They seemed poised to do the same to the Bucs in Tampa when they traversed the bulk of the field on their first drive with six straight runs against the league's best run defense.
That drive stalled on a third-and-4 Shaq Barrett sack, but after Tampa Bay went three-and-out and punted the ball back to them, the Vikings returned to their initial rhythm. Play-action passes to Adam Thielen added a pair of 15-yard chunks, but by and large, the Vikings bullied the Bucs methodically on the ground. They took 14 plays and the rest of the first quarter to reach the end zone, and they only threatened a disruption with one third down.
Head coach Mike Zimmer must have been confident when Dalvin Cook punctuated the extended drive with a 1-yard touchdown. His top-ranked run-blocking line (5.07 adjusted line yards) had so far had its way against its defensive counterpart. But I doubt he retained that confidence when kicker Dan Bailey pulled his extra point attempt wide left.
Source 1 of likely 2021 regression: the 31st-ranked special teams (-9.4% DVOA) and 30th-ranked conversion rate on kicks inside 50 yards (83.3%).
At one time, Bailey was the most accurate kicker in NFL history. He looked like the opposite in the final month of the 2020 season. Bailey had already missed three kicks in Week 13, two of them point-after attempts. Perhaps Zimmer attributed these misses to an unexpected bad day, relieved they came in a Jaguars...